The evidence from the 2015 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan indicates that the government has not undertaken reforms to end its systematic use of forced labor. Yet the 2015 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan differed from previous years in a significant way: While the government continued to force more than a million people to pick cotton and farmers to grow cotton under threat of penalty, it did so while making significant efforts to project the appearance of cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and to claim compliance with its commitments to the World Bank to apply labor laws.
The government unleashed an unprecedented campaign of harassment and persecution against independent monitors to attempt to cover up its use of forced labor while taking pains to make widespread, massive forced mobilization appear voluntary. In some cases, it forced teachers, students, and medical workers to sign statements attesting that they picked cotton of their own will and agreeing to disciplinary measures, including being fired or expelled, if they failed to pick cotton. It instructed people to lie to monitors saying they came to pick cotton of their own volition. Officials also repeatedly arrested, assaulted, and fabricated charges against citizens documenting forced labor, including Uzbek-German Forum’s monitors.